Renner Otto Associate Kathryn Imeli says the three keys to succeeding in a career in IP law are mentorship, a firm that's willing to invest in you and most importantly - confidence. 



Tell us a little about your background.

While I was completing my undergrade degree in Neuroscience and Biomedical Science at Central Michigan University, I assumed I was heading towards the medical/graduate school path and a career in research. However, after spending a few years volunteering in a microbiology research laboratory at school, I realized I didn’t particularly enjoy the trial and error aspect of research. About mid-way through my degree I decided to start exploring alternative career paths. I have always enjoyed and been skilled in writing and analytical thinking, so I began to consider the legal industry. I was first introduced to patent law by my father who is a research chemist and has been an inventor on a number of patents for his company. It just sort of clicked that a career in patent law would provide a perfect balance between my love for science and my interest in the legal profession.

I knew I wanted to pursue my legal education in a city with both a solid IP network and ample opportunity, so, much to the surprise of my premed/neuroscience peers, I made the decision to move from Michigan to Cleveland to pursue my law degree at Case Western Reserve University.

How did you end up at Renner Otto?

During my first year of law school, being the analytical/researcher that I am, I did my own deep dive into the Cleveland IP law industry to see what was out there. I knew I wanted a place that was smaller, where I could immerse myself into the industry, but also a place that would provide more of a collaborative, close-knit environment for me to grow within. I began as a clerk at Renner Otto during that first year, where I was immediately assigned a female mentor, Heidi, who, along with the rest of the firm, was wholly invested in helping me grow my career. I became a full-time associate after graduation in the fall of 2017.

What do you love most about the IP Law industry?

There is so much variety. Although I have a biomedical background, I’m able to work on everything from mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc. - something new is constantly coming across my desk that I get to experience and learn about. The entire IP industry is so broad, and although you have the opportunity to become more niche if you want to, your whole career isn’t dedicated to just one area of technology, as it often is in research. In just a short amount of time, you begin to learn a lot about so many things, and I’m lucky that Renner Otto really encourages me to experience as many different areas as possible.

What advice would you give to other women who might be considering a career in IP Law?

There is the old adage of “fake it till you make it”, but in my experience I would say instead of trying to “fake” anything — ask the questions. Be vocal and confident about what you know or don’t know, and be pro-active about wanting to learn more. Mentorship is also key. Renner Otto prioritizes making sure new hires have access to senior partners, and they really take the time to show they’re invested in helping you grow and learn.

I was lucky to have a mentor in Heidi, who was Managing Partner at the time, and she always said, “always take a seat at the table, and if there isn’t one, make a seat at the table.” I think some women have a tendency to stay in the background, especially if they feel less experienced, but I learned how important it is to speak up and be confident in what I know and my qualifications. I am just one of 4 women attorneys at the firm, currently, but we are always encouraged to be a contributing member, regardless of experience or expertise. Heidi was really transformative with this firm, and during her time as Managing Partner she worked to shift more of the old-school mentalities and culture of the firm - for the better. I feel that we are moving towards a more progressive environment, and being with a smaller firm, I’m able to not only grow my career but also actively contribute to the company.

What about life outside of the firm?

I got married last August and my husband and I just bought our first house in Parma, which is new and exciting. We are very outdoorsy; we love hiking, camping or anything involving nature and we celebrated our honeymoon in Banff National Park in Canada which was incredible. We are also big dog-lovers, so we can’t wait to get our first dog to join us in our adventures. I’m also involved in various sports leagues, including volleyball, and spend as much time as I can volunteering with our local church in Berea.

Have questions for Kathryn? Contact her directly to learn more.